SUN OF BLOOD AND RUIN by Mariely Lares (BOOK REVIEW)
“I have a perfect view of Tonatiuh dipping behind the ocean. Gliding from east to west, he brings life and light, to this our sun. Unlike the gods before him, he isn’t the first, nor the second or third. He is the fifth, and one day, the old people say, he too will meet his death.”
Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares is a historical fantasy debut that captures you with its authenticity and its heart. This is a tale of a young woman who is caught between two lives, the one she wants to live and the one she’s forced to live.
Set during the sixteenth century when Spain invaded Mexico, this was a time of much political unrest. Worshipping the old gods was outlawed, the Indigenous temples were all but destroyed and magic was seen as witchcraft and so its open practice punishable by death. Though the people are oppressed there is one who will not allow the tyranny of the Spanish army to go uncontested. Our main character, Pantera, is a secret vigilante dealing justice for those helpless under the laws of New Spain—Pantera roams the streets using her magic and her sword skills to save those hunted by Spanish soldiers. Yet who is she behind that mask? Gentle Lady Leonora’s life is planned out before her, she is set to be Queen of Spain when she marries the King’s son. Our Leonora may be outspoken but she faints at the sight of blood, she is careful to guard her true opinions in the presence of men and to be subservient to those of higher social status. No one would suspect that Leonora and Pantera are one in the same—yet they are. Both Leonora and Pantera face an uncertain future as at birth a seer predicted she would die young in battle but this will not stop her mission. When an ancient Nahua prophecy of the world’s destruction shows signs of coming to pass both Pantera and Leonora must fight to save it.
Immediately Lares uses her character’s double lives to create a rather fun opening few chapters as we see Pantera on a daring escapade to save a man and his young son’s life which then leads to a chase across barren land where Pantera becomes injured. There’s magic, swordplay, some banter too but also a rather somber moment. Then later as Lady Leonora, she must hide her injury and make herself presentable to her potential Prince suitor, which proves somewhat difficult. There is all that you would expect from a character who is written to be a female reimagining of Zorro, and I found this quite entertaining. Yet at times I did feel Leonora/Pantera needed more depth to their character, a little more showing of her personality rather than telling.
Hiding one’s identity is a significant theme throughout and Lares explores this in great depth. In fact, there are a cast of side characters who I cannot discuss because their identities are so obscure and it’s better to discover this for yourself. I thoroughly appreciated how Leonora’s thoughts portrayed the restrictions placed on women during the sixteenth century. Women were not to be involved in politics, have opinions, or show emotion and the disdain felt at this permeates. Yet Leonora not only faces these restrictions because of her gender but also because of her mixed heritage, with her father being Spanish and her mother Nahuan, which the Spanish deemed as uncivilised. In accordance with living with her stepmother, Leonora is forced to adopt Christianity, to forget the gods of Nahua, to live as a Spanish noblewoman and reject and hide her indigenous identity—at least in plain sight. Throughout she faces injustice after injustice, she sees her fellow Nahua people imprisoned, executed, and abused, which Lares shows us in stark reality. Though this may be a historical fantasy, the historical aspects were no less true and horrifying.
“In the middle of the night, when the air cools and the crickets sing I’m just a girl afraid of death, wanting to grow up and see more of the world, taste more of life. But I am a child of the Nemontemi; my death has been foretold, and I’m not long for this world.”
This is a book which includes a lot of authenticity to a fantastical mythological world. Lares presents her readers with an alternative Mexico, one that holds much accuracy with the inclusion of various Spanish dialects and Nahuatl languages being spoken. (There is a glossary for anyone who needs it) I loved this inclusion and learning what certain words meant However, this world is also filled with magical abilities. There are certain characters who can use their tonalli, their life force, for powers such as extended speed, agility or blasting your opponent ten feet away from you! Our main character, Leonora, can not only wield tonalli but she is also a nagual, a shapeshifter. Throughout we are given glimpses into Leonora’s training with Master Toto, which was full of riddles and philosophy, showing how spiritual and deep-seated in Nahua mythology this was. I loved learning of this mythology and of the old gods. At times I found the pacing to be somewhat uneven, with chapters where the plot takes its time to move forward and other times where events move too quickly. Mostly I felt Leonora’s scenes where she transforms into her nagual ended rather quickly each time and I would have loved to see this explored more.
Sun of Blood and Ruin is lavishly rich in mythology and magic, it is an exploration of the damage of colonialism, of oppression and war. Yet it is also fun and will definitely appeal to Zorro fans.
“The strange thing about leading a double life is that you may suddenly find the double life leading you. One side is always hidden from the other, and often contradicts the other.
ARC provided by Maud at Harper Voyager. Thank you for the copy. All quotes used are taken from an early ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Sun of Blood and Ruin is out 28th September from HarperVoyager. You can pre-order your copy on Bookshop.org